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Flames coach Sutter loses again in San Jose

2/25/2003

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Northern California's hockey fans spent
years watching terrible teams in teal until Darryl Sutter turned
the San Jose Sharks into something to cheer about.

When Sutter returned to San Jose for the first time since the
Sharks fired him, the fans showed their appreciation -- and his
former players had one of the best games of their dismal season.

Teemu Selanne scored two goals, and Evgeni Nabokov stopped 32
shots as the Sharks beat the Calgary Flames 5-2 on Monday night.

Vincent Damphousse, captain Owen Nolan and Matt Bradley also
scored as the Sharks played the type of hockey that might have
allowed Sutter to keep his job as the winningest coach in franchise
history.

Sutter led the Sharks to five consecutive seasons of improved
point totals while transforming the franchise from a laughingstock
to a division winner. He was fired Dec. 1 as the scapegoat for San
Jose's dismal start, though Ron Wilson has done no better as his
replacement.

The Sharks' front office might blame Sutter for the team's
downturn, but the fans know better. They cheered Sutter loudly when
he walked across the ice to the locker room after all three
periods.

"The best part was seeing all the fans and their faces,''
Sutter said. "There's a closeness there. It was neat, because I
have a lot of respect for the fans here. They're responsible for a
lot of this team's success.''

Sutter's 9-year-old son, Chris, was in the Flames' locker room
after the game, wearing a Calgary jersey and speaking to his dad's
new players.

Chris, who has Downs Syndrome, later made his way over to the
Sharks' locker room, where he's still a favorite. Sutter's family
isn't moving to Calgary until the offseason.

The Flames brought Sutter back to his native Alberta on Dec. 28
to take over for Greg Gilbert, but Calgary hadn't faced the Sharks
yet this season. Neither team is likely to make the playoffs, since
they're currently in two of the bottom three spots in the Western
Conference.

Still, San Jose followed up a 6-0 win over the 14th-place Blue
Jackets with a solid victory over last-place Calgary -- two
outstanding games since Wilson questioned his team's heart and
character in a postgame tirade last week.

"I really still believe that they're a top-four team,'' Sutter
said. "And I'm still surprised at their current record and what's
happened here.''

Nabokov had a chance for the first consecutive shutouts of his
career until allowing two goals in the final 4½ minutes. Many of
the Sharks tried to catch Sutter's eye on the opposing bench as
they played hard-hitting hockey against the tired Flames.

"It was weird to see him behind that bench,'' Selanne said.
"Actually, I think I made him laugh once. I was always one of the
guys who could make him laugh. We had a great relationship. He
taught me a few things as a player. I think he wanted to win games
more than most of the players sometimes. That's what makes him so
special.''

Roman Turek made 25 saves for the Flames, who have won just two
of 14 games. Former Sharks wing Dave Lowry broke up Nabokov's bid
for his 18th career shutout, and Scott Nichol also scored.

One night after scoring four goals against Phoenix, Calgary
forward Jarome Iginla was held to one assist.

"They played a good, hard game out there,'' Iginla said.
"Nolan and Selanne seemed in control, and they put line after line
on us, which applied pressure.''

Turek gave up a soft first-period goal to Bradley on a 40-foot
slap shot just 4:09 in.

Nolan scored his 21st goal during a power play midway through
the second, firing a long shot past Marco Sturm's screen. Selanne
scored his team-leading 24th and 25th goals in the third, breaking
his stick on the goalpost while getting the first one.

"We've narrowed the (playoff) gap to a paltry 10 points,''
Wilson said with a grin. "We'll just keep working on it.
Hopefully, with the way Nabby is playing, and (since) we're
starting to get goals from all four lines ... you never know what
can happen.''

Game notes
Sturm and rookie Niko Dimitrakos had two assists apiece for
the Sharks. ... Sutter won 192 games with the Sharks. The first
four coaches in franchise history combined to win 127. ... Bradley
hadn't scored since Jan. 27. The checking-line right wing was a
healthy scratch three times since then. ... Lowry, a favorite of
both Sutter and the San Jose fans, played for the Sharks from
1997-00.